Thoughts on the demise of seven Maryland teams

SportsMarketingKevin Anderson

Maryland made it official today, confirming that seven athletic teams will be discontinued. Men’s outdoor track and field will remain, although the sport will need to reach financial benchmarks down the road in order to remain viable.

The eliminated sports are: men's tennis; men's indoor track and field and cross country; men's and women's swimming and diving; women's water polo; and women's acrobatics and tumbling.

Some reflections:

** I can’t help but think of how members of the Maryland men's and women's track and field teams sat in a semicircle between the starting line and high-jump pit on a November day and were told by athletic director Kevin Anderson that the men's program was being recommended for elimination. And then some hardened athletes -- who are normally adept at pushing forward through pain and fatigue -- began to cry. They had heard rumors but somehow didn’t really believe their sport would be among the ones to go.

“I think the thing Kevin did right is, he did it face to face. That’s a big decision, so you want to hear it from the boss,” said head track coach Andrew Valmon.

It’s a credit to the school and the program that enough private funds were raised for men’s outdoor track to continue, at least for now. But, since cross country and indoor track are now gone, the men’s roster will have to be cut in half. The fund-raising targets for the other sports to meet were quite steep.

** I think of those unsold football suites that languished high up in Tyser Tower. They have the bar area and the flat screen. And they are a monument to … well, what exactly? Declines in football revenue were an important factor in the sports cuts. Was there enough evidence of fan support – of a genuine market – to build those suites? The tower, completed in September 2009, has been a financial disappointment. The modern suites – and all their related debt – were inherited by athletic director Kevin Anderson when he arrived in the fall of 2010. He essentially inherited an economic model under which Maryland was spreading itself too thin by trying to sustain 27 sports in difficult economic times.

Remember that Maryland had commissioned a consultants’ study long before it built those luxury suites. The consultants surveyed area corporations and other potential suite buyers, and found  "a very low level of interest," according to a 2004 market assessment prepared for the university by Turnkey Sports of Columbia and Shugoll Research and Team Services of Bethesda. "The survey results show a marked weakness on the suite side," said the study, which I got from a public records request.

** I think of Valmon, the track coach, trying hard to understand what happened to his program. “You think about the economics of our sport. You still have the women’s (track program continuing). That’s why it didn’t seem logical to us. At the end of the day what do you really get back from cutting men’s track? You don’t even get the land back because the women are still using it.”

Here is Anderson today in prepared remarks on the sports cuts:  “We understand the pain and disappointment this has caused our student-athletes and their families. The deliberations of the President’s Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics were painstaking. No one wanted to come to this conclusion, but our fund-raising efforts in these other sports have not been successful. I personally want to thank everyone for their efforts. Our student-athletes and coaches competed this season with pride and excellence in a difficult situation.”

Anderson had talked earlier about facing the athletes whose teams were disappearing. "The only thing I can equate it to is losing some family members," he said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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